AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The latest edition of the Big Apple Circus features plenty of gravity-defying performances. But there's one act that seems absolutely brain-defying to reporter Jeff Lunden.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: I have owned cats my entire life. But it never occurred to me until I went to the Big Apple Circus that you could train them to do tricks - like, really, really impressive tricks.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S NEW PUSSYCAT")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singer) What's new, pussycat? Whoa, whoa, whoa...
LUNDEN: The Savitsky Cats, a Ukrainian mother-and-daughter team, along with nine talented fluff balls, have cats doing slaloms through ladders, jumping through hoops and scampering up a pole to a tiny platform, then jumping into a pillow 20 feet below.
LUNDEN: Honestly I've never seen anything like it.
MARYNA SAVITSKY: My name is Maryna. And here's with us is my mom Svitlana. And we Savitsky Cats' family.
LUNDEN: I met with the Savitskys, along with a gorgeous white cat named Linda, in a tiny, cinderblock basement room at Lincoln Center.
SAVITSKY: My mom just have a good eye. As soon as she see, like, the face of the cat, she you already know, OK, this will be a good performer. It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience to train a cat. But the first thing you should start is get acquainted with your cat. Just observe what you cat want to do playing or just walking. Maybe a cat have, like, some funny way of walking. So you just see it, and you just a little bit correct. And improve it. And it became a little trick for you and the cat. And after, you just kind of improve, improve, improve, until cat is doing what you want her to do.
SAVITSKY: The other part of our training is to teach cat not to be afraid of anything - a light, music, applause and all this thing.
LUNDEN: The day I went, one of the cats was hesitant to do one of the tricks.
SAVITSKY: You cannot force a cat to do something unless she wanted to do. So until she wants to, she will not do it.
LUNDEN: Of course, Maryna adds you can always tempt the recalcitrant cats with a little quid pro quo.
SAVITSKY: The main treat is petting, a lot of petting. So we just kind of pet, pet. And a lot of, like, treats - tasty treats.
LUNDEN: After their engagement with the Big Apple Circus, the Savitsky Cats will be the halftime entertainment for the NBA All-Star game.
For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF BENNY GOODMAN SONG, "SING, SING, SING")
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